The Kind of Man Southern Baptists Need as President
The President the SBC Needs
I don’t want an SBC President that is safe. I want an SBC President who is good. The Chronicles of Narnia allusion to God in the character of Aslan is exactly the description that is necessary in the SBC at this time. The context of our culture requires a leader that cannot be controlled, manipulated or bullied by the world but who also is gentle and compassionate with his people. We need a President that is compelled by Christ and not by political prudence. The SBC President will set the tone for the rest of the convention and we need to strike the tone of tenacity in doctrine and tenderness to the sheep. I can think of no better illustration to set the necessary tone than the example Jesus set in Matthew 21:12-17.
A Man Who Knows the Mission
Jesus had just entered Jerusalem to the roar of a crowd shouting Hosanna to the person they thought was their military Messiah and yet He doesn’t enter the house of Herod or of Pontius Pilate. He enters the Temple, the house of His Father. Theological drift, unchecked tradition and financial misappropriation had turned the Temple into a “den of thieves”. Jesus did not let the heralding of a misguided people distract from His mission. Though Jesus certainly had the power to free the Jews from Rome, that wasn’t His mission. His mission was Spiritual. His mission was Gospel focused. His mission started with the Temple.
Whoever becomes the next SBC President will be heralded by many. The flurry of interviews and speaking engagements carry with it the danger of losing focus on the mission. We don’t need a celebrity for a president. We don’t need a man that enjoys the limelight but instead uses it to reflect the glory of God in our convention. Theological drift, unchecked tradition and even financial mishandling have hurt the message and mission of the SBC. We need a man focused on the mission of evangelism, training and discipleship. We need a man that is undistracted by either the cheers or the jeers of a misguided crowd and presses on toward the high calling of God.
A Man Who Chooses Truth Over Politics
Jesus comes to the Temple and sees a litany of godless behaviors displayed in the Temple. Jesus could have walked by the Temple and done nothing. After all, what good is cleansing the Temple going to do? Jesus had cleansed the Temple 3 years earlier and it didn’t seem to last. Why waste time trying again? Jesus could have approached the leaders in a more politically prudent way and asked them to change. He could have give an ambiguously winsome speech about proper worship without mentioning names. But that’s not the choice Jesus makes. When “Big Judaism” made a mockery of God’s house, Jesus speaks with His actions and not with His words. Jesus didn’t choose the safe route, He chose the necessary one. Jesus knows that every time the Temple needs cleansing, you do the hard work. Jesus wasn’t safe in this moment, but He was good. His actions were decisive and deliberate. He made a mess of the Temple yet cleansed it before God. His actions enraged the leading spiritual figures of the time and yet were based in truth and love. Jesus wasn’t cleansing just any temple, He was cleansing the house of God. He was cleansing the house of His Father. This was personal for Jesus. The truth of Scripture informed His decision and His love for the Father was the driving force.
The next SBC President needs to be a man driven not by the best political decision or the decision that makes the most people happy but by his love for Christ. A man so captured by the Gospel, that he won’t let the world’s ideologies infect his thinking. A man so gripped by the sacrifice of Jesus that he is compelled by his love for Christ and not by his love for smiles or likes. Thomas Sowell said “When you want to help others you tell them the truth, when you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” We need a man that will tell the truth of Scripture and not just comfort our conscience with flowery words. When others look to make a mockery of Christ’s church he will not be a man to make the safe decision but the one that honors his Father. After all, this isn’t just some convention of churches, this is a convention of our Father’s churches. So we start with with the purity of our own convention (1 Pet 4:17). While I continue to “believe all things” about my fellow messengers in the SBC, I also take seriously the warning of Paul in Acts 20:28-32. I know that Satan will seek to use people from within the convention, including at the highest levels of leadership, to try and pervert the largest and most influential voice for the Gospel in the world. We need a man that will start to purify, chasten, and purge those institutions within the SBC that are in need of cleansing. A man that won’t make the safe decision to cover problems with a wave and a smile, but will address any internal gangrene using Scripture as his scalpel. The actions may make the SBC look messy to us, but will result in a convention that is cleansed before God. The next SBC President needs to be a man who will not make safe decisions of political prudence but a man who is compelled to make the decisions that please his Heavenly Father.
A Man Who is Good
This is truly an amazing scene. Tables have been turned and people have been driven out of the Temple. It’s a scene of chaos and violence. Yet in the midst of a marketplace in shambles we read in Matthew 21:14 that people were still coming to Jesus. They were not the strongest or most able people in the crowd but rather the most vulnerable. The blind and the lame came to Jesus looking for healing. The children came to Jesus singing “Hosanna”. The same hands that just overturned tables and drove grown men from the temple with violent force now gently embrace young children and heal the most vulnerable. The toughness of a fierce warrior becomes the tenderness of a compassionate healer. He is a man not to be trifled with and yet He is a man that is caring and approachable. Jesus was not a safe man, but He was a good man.
The President of the SBC must be a man not only capable of leading on the battlefield but also gentle enough to be approachable by our most vulnerable. Notice that the blind and lame approached Jesus because they knew Jesus could heal them. Jesus wasn’t just going to sit and be empathetic to their plight in life. Jesus was going to do something about it. We have plenty of people who have been left marred, injured and hobbled by the depravity of evil. Evil from people outside our church doors, in our pews and, sadly, in our pulpits. These vulnerable people need help from a leader who is good. They don’t need a President that will give empathetic platitudes in his speeches and writings that are “full of sound and fury amounting to nothing”. Our vulnerable need a President that will seek to offer actual help to the truly vulnerable. We need a President that is fierce enough to combat godless ideologies that wish to inflict the worst of perversions on our children. Yet we need a President that is also gentle enough to be approachable to our children. We need the hands of a President that can fight the dog, drive out the wolves, and then tend to the sheep. Hands that are mighty in battle and yet gentle in ministry. That takes a man who is not safe, but is good.
To be clear, in no way do I see the President of the SBC as our savior. May it never be! But I can think of no better person for our President to emulate than Jesus Christ. The world wants a safe man. The world wants a man that they can tame. The world wants a leader that treats the Bible like a party platter and not a sword. They want a feckless leader that they can manipulate, neuter, or ignore. What we need is a man of God. We need a man that will hold our institutions accountable to God’s Word. We need a man unafraid to tell the world to fear God and give the Gospel with grace. We need a man that will defy tyrants and protect the vulnerable. We need a man who is not safe, but is good.
Paul Grenelle is a lay elder at Riverbend Community Church in Ormond Beach (Daytona Beach) Florida.